Spring semester begins this week for students in the Montana University System. Asymptomatic students living in campus residential halls will be able to be tested for COVID-19.
COVID-19 testing for students without symptoms will take place over the two weeks of the start of the spring semester for those campuses with substantial residence hall populations.
The campuses involved are Montana State University, the University of Montana, Montana Technological University, MSU-Billings, MSU-Northern, and UM-Western.
Resources are limited, including staffing resources, so students in on-campus residence halls are being targeted, according to Montana State University spokesman Michael Becker.
"They’re living in dense living arrangements. They have shared bathrooms. And so providing an extra tool in the university’s tool kit for minimizing the risk of the virus to our campus community is just a useful thing that we can do. And now we have the resources to be able to provide that," Becker said.
State health department data show 1,462 COVID-19 cases associated with Montana State University through Dec. 16. A total of 2,639 confirmed cases have been associated with 19 universities across the state.
Students in residence halls will receive communications from their campuses on when and where to schedule testing appointments.
These asymptomatic tests are free and will use the existing state inventory of rapid BinaxNOW tests. The University System in a release says this effort is possible because of a partnership with state leadership, including the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
The university system said as vaccines and more information become available, campuses will update students and employees on vaccination procedures and timetables.